Here is a recipe my son, Giuliano, improvised on one of his visits home. The first dish he had ever cooked was at age eleven, when he decided to produce lasagne for twenty of his classmates. After that startling but successful debut, as he grew older I would let him tinker in the kitchen on those not rare occasions when he felt like cooking and I did not. The will to eat well and, necessarily, cheaply during college and the succeeding bachelor years served only to spur his culinary inclinations.
On this particular occasion, I had told Giuliano I would make pasta if he looked after the rest of the dinner. He inspected the fridge, poked through the cupboards, checked the basil in the window box, and said, “It’s simple; all I need now is a chicken.” And, while it revealed a young man’s partiality for vigorous flavor (note the use of wine, vinegar, and lemon juice), simple it was and good. Incidentally, it demonstrates that if your kitchen–and your mind–are organized for Italian cooking, with just a quick trip to the market, you can produce a meal on short notice.
- A 3-pound chicken
- ½ pound black Greek-style olives
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 4 garlic cloves, lightly mashed
- Black pepper in a grinder
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons wine vinegar, preferably white
- 5 small flat anchovy fillets chopped fine
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1½ tablespoons torn-up fresh basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Cut the chicken into 10 pieces. Wash it in cold water and put it in a colander to drain. After 15 to 20 minutes, pat it thoroughly dry with kitchen towels.
2. Pit the olives, cutting the flesh away from the pits in pieces as large as possible. Set aside half the pitted olives, choosing the largest pieces; chop the other half very fine to a pulp and set aside separately.
3. Choose a lidded sauté pan that can accommodate later all the chicken pieces without overlapping. Put in the oil and the garlic and turn on the heat to medium. Sauté the garlic in the uncovered pan until it becomes colored a pale gold.
4. Add the chicken pieces and turn up the heat to high. Brown the chicken well on all sides, starting with the skin side facing the bottom of the pan to melt its fat. Sprinkle with a little salt and generous grindings of pepper. When you have browned the chicken well all over, turn down the heat to medium, remove the garlic, add the white wine and the vinegar, and cover the pan.
5. When the liquid in the pan has evaporated by half, put in the chopped anchovies and the chopped half of the olives, turn the chicken pieces over, cover the pan, and continue cooking. Cook until the chicken is done through and through and feels very tender when pricked with a fork.
6. Tilt the pan, pushing the chicken to one side to let the juices collect at the other end. Spoon off and discard most of the clear fat, but none of the brown cooking juices. Add the olive pieces, the parsley, and the basil and cook for 1 or 2 minutes longer, turning the chicken over once or twice.
7. Add the lemon juice, turn the chicken pieces over, and transfer at once to a warm serving platter together with all the cooking juices in the pan.
This recipe serves 6, and includes 1/8 teaspoon of added salt per serving.